Monday, December 23, 2019

The Sheep Give Birth

Conner Prairie is a living history museum located five minutes from my house. The popular vacation spot is a village where costumed interpreters recreate life in 1829. Even though I've visited Conner Prairie many times, participated in numerous programs, even volunteered as a seamstress for a few months, I always enjoy watching the village change through the seasons.

Each spring the animal barn is filled with bulging-bellied mothers waiting to give birth. Goats, cows and sheep are nesting in anticipation of new life.

Last May I came to the animal barn excited to see what was new. I noticed a mother sheep resting in a corner of the barn almost buried in straw.

"Why does the sheep have so much straw around her?" I asked the volunteer.

"She is preparing to give birth. The straw keeps the dust settled so when the lambs are born, they do not aspirate dust, which could lead to difficulty breathing and possible death."

Reflecting on this lesson from the barn later in the day, I thought about Mary on the night Jesus was born. I believe there were more preparations for the sheep about to deliver than there were for Mary. Surely there was dust in the stable where Jesus was born. Straw, animals and dust go together. I wondered if Jesus aspirated any dust following his birth.

On the surface, Mary's preparation for Jesus' birth seemingly looks sloppy and haphazard - riding on a donkey during the ninth month of pregnancy, walking around Bethlehem trying to find a place to stay, eventually settling in a stable for animals. All of these circumstances are quite different from preparations available to expectant parents today who start planning for birth soon after a pregnancy is discovered.

Jesus' birth was really the culmination of Mary and Joseph's whole lives. Both knew God, both had hearts open to God's leading in confusing circumstances and both wholeheartedly gave themselves to God with faith and trust. Jesus' birth was not completely a beginning, but an ending and beginning for two persons who walked closely with God.

The workers in the barn at Conner Prarie prepared the area so the mother sheep could birth her lambs safely, but the preparation that brought Mary and Joseph to a similar place - a barn and a stable - came from spending years of time with God, seeking God at all times and celebrating - even in confusion and uncertainty about what the future would bring - God in person.

Prayer: God, you appear in many places, even as unusual as birthing your son in a stable filled with animals and covered with dust and straw. Guide our seeking and trust in you so we can emulate Mary and Joseph, who took confusing news and responded with faith. Amen.

For Your Reflection:

How do you prepare for the birth of Christ - in your home, spiritually with friends, in your church, in the community? What new practices can become traditions to welcome Christ in your heart?

Sunday, December 15, 2019

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year?

Mike Reed wrote the article for this week.

Read Matthew 2:16-18

I like Christmas music, carols as well as "sounds of the season." One from the latter category I always enjoy comes from the late Andy Williams: "It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year." The lively, upbeat song highlights many of the things that bring joy to us at Christmas. You can hardly suppress a smile upon hearing it, even if you are have a "Blue Christmas" day as Elvis would have put it.

From October onward we gear up for this most wonderful time. The music, of course, as I have implied, plays a major role as do decorations, shopping, special programs, paties, family get-togethers, etc. It almost seenms un-American if not un-Christian not to feel this really is "the most wonderful time of the year!"

Most of us know the familiar "Christmas story" parts of which appear in both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. While the joy experienced in the two stories of Jesus' birth differs from the sentiments sung by Andy Williams, it is still there. However, that does not constitute everything recorded in the events surrounding the birth of Jesus.

In Matthew 2:16-18, which we tend to skip over for the most part, we have a downright horrible story. In a fit of anger at having been deceived by the wise men who did not return to tell him of the whereabouts of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, the king ordered the slaughter of all children in and around Bethlehem who were two and under. The story ends with words from Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentations. Rachel weeping for her chidren; she refused to be consoled; because they are no more."

Talk about "pouring cold water" on "the most wonderful time of the year"! This story does just that. Why did such a terrible story make it into the Bible? Who needs such a downer while we are in the midst of a time of celebration?

I will mention one possible reason why the story remains timely for us. While most people enjoy this "most wonderful time of the year," others struggle for a variety of reasons; illness, loss of a loved one, broken relationships, unemployment, addictions, disappointments and the like. Such people do not experience the joy. Instead, they feel full of pain, remorse, guilt and more. The carols and "sounds of the season" that bring comfort to us pass by them like so much noise or even worse, open old or more recent wounds.

Keep that though in mind as you move through these days. Be alert for those for whom this might not be "the most wonderful time of the year." Pray for them, speak words of comfort if you can or simply listen to them or give them a hug.

Prayer: "The most wonderful time of the year," can be a misleading phrase as challenges we face often do not take a break during the month of December. Hope can be hard to find amidst the lyrics and melody of this song. Remember God's presence always, even when it seems "everyone" is rejoicing and celebrating grounds us for these days. God is near, surrounding us with love always. Amen.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

From What Perspective?

Many characters are involved in the Christmas narrative - even some inanimate objects. Here are a few I've identified:

    Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the innkeeper, the sheep, the shepherds, the donkey, the manger, the stable, townspeople, others walking to Bethlehem, the star, the kings, angels, other animals, adults and children going by the stable, Simeon and Anna.

From what perspective would you have liked to witness the birth of Christ? Choose one or more of these persons/animals/objects and reflect on their placement in the Christmas story. Use these questions as a guide:

1. What thoughts guided your selection?
2. How do you picture/imagine your choice?
3. Where is your choice placed and how do they move? For example, the shepherds start in the fields and move to the manger.
4. What type of interaction would your choice have with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus?

My Choice

I chose the donkey because this animal could hear all of the conversations between Mary and Joseph as they traveled to Bethlehem, during their time in the stable, and as they left for Egypt. The donkey would have been a wonderful reporter of the most intimate remarks before and after the day Jesus was born, writing an interesting and inspiring account of their travels.

For Your Reflection

In what ways can a change in perspective affect your experience of Christmas?

Prayer: God, we see so many people, animals and objects part of the Christmas story. Let us enter these scriptures so we too can become present to that day and time when Jesus was born. Amen.             

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Cancel Christmas?

(I wrote the following article which  appeared in the Indianapolis Star on Sunday, December 23, 2012, nine days after the shootings in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. At the time, I was providing occasional commentaries for the religion section of the paper.)

I recently awakened earlier than usual and went to my desk where I pray and write each morning. The sky was dark, so I could not see the woods behind my house or watch the squirrels and birds. I am used to light and activity in the woods to help center in God. I was not expecting darkness.

No one expects darkness. The children and teachers who gathered a week ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, did not expect darkness when they left their homes earlier in the day.

Mary's Words Relate to Newtown

When the angel came to Mary telling her she would become pregnant with God's son, Mary replied, "How can this be?"

As word of the mass killing spread in Newtown, across the nation and world, many hearts joined Mary's question, "How can this be?"

Cancel Christmas

I read a comment in the Indianapolis Star shortly after the tragedy, some people in Newtown wanted to cancel Christmas, while others already had removed outside decorations.

Cancel Christmas? Cancel the time when Christians everywhere remember the birth of God's son, Jesus? Cancel the day marking the arrival of the person called 'the light of the world;' 'the bright morning star;' 'the one who in moments of deepest darkness can bring hope, love, companionship, courage, perseverance, comfort and light?' Cancel Christmas ... when we need all parts of Jesus more than ever?

God Is With Mary

Mary spent some time thinking about the angel's words. The angel reminded Mary, "God is with you."

The angel reminds us, we are not alone; God is with us even in darkness.

I continued writing at my desk in darkness, until first light appeared. I could see trees and hear birds. Another natural cycle of darkness and light was complete.

Resolving darkness for those who mourn in Newtown may be a life-long cycle taking different forms.

Celebrating Christmas - the birth of the one who brings light, love and light - can be a hopeful reminder no one ever walks through darkness alone.

May the message Jesus brings be celebrated in Newtown to the fullest glory next week and in all years to come.

Prayer: Lord in your mercy let your presence come to all who feel like the circumstances of their lives are filled with darkness, without light. We are reminded in John 1:5 - "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out." May these words be our hope and strength always, as we seek you, resting in the manger. Amen.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

A Simple Prayer of Gratitude for God's Presence

The entrance to the limestone Benedictine Monastery in Beech Grove, Indiana, where I studied to become a spiritual director, has two words engraved in the stone above the door, "Seek God." I've kept these two words close in mind through the years when I have needed guidance as well as when I had reason to celebrate.

Not too long ago, I was faced with several days of uncertainty and unfamiliarity. I awakened each morning with fatigue wondering how I would make it through the day. I sought God in the early hours of each new day, asking for an opening of my heart so I could enter God's presence in a way that would give me grounding and strength.

Leaning against the dresser in my bedroom, yearning with desire to enter fully the adventures of the day ahead, God responded by filling my heart with energy to sustain and keep me alert to encounters and interactions that would happen as the day evolved.

My response to God in those moments, still leaning against the dresser, was a prayer reflecting my gratitude, with the assurance of God's participation in my life - even when my awareness wanders.

                         Thank you, God, for hearing my prayer.

                         Thank you, God, for knowing my heart.

                         Thank you, God, for your love.


Prayer: God, these are simple words you gave me, a letter of gratitude, defining how you are with us, always. In our seeking, whatever our circumstance, joyful or challenging, we have reminders of your presence and you know our hearts even before we come to you. In your goodness, you sustain and celebrate our path each day. Amen.

Monday, November 11, 2019

My First Experience Receiving Gratitude

I saw John and his mother walk to the side of the swimming pool where the lessons began. He clung to his mother with both hands, his face speaking the language neither needed to say. John was scared.

I was 16 years old, teaching swimming lessons at a neighborhood pool. For the first session, which lasted a week, another teenager and I were assigned a group of five, four-year-old children.

Four children gathered, sitting on the edge of the pool kicking their legs, eager to jump in and learn the basics of swimming. John stood behind the group, gripping his mother's hand, wanting no part of swim lessons.

Realizing he needed individual attention, I said to my colleague, "Let me take John. The other children are ready to get into the water."

His intense fear of the water stirred compassion and sadness in me and a desire to help. John clung to his mother most of the first day. Nothing I did or said convinced him to release his bond. Finally, I reached both of my hands to this frightened four-year-old and with great courage he took one of my hands, and then the other, still standing close to his mother, but inching closer to the side of the pool.

By the end of the first class, John, stepped tentatively - always holding my hand - to the edge of the pool where he sat, dangling his legs. A  small triumph compared with the other children already bobbing their heads and dipping under water, but a triumph nonethelest!

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday Morning

Tuesday morning we began again sitting on the edge of the pool, playing with the water and talking.

By Wednesday, John slipped into the waist-high water and with increasing confidence jumped and played, copying the activity of the other children.

Toward the end of Wednesday's class, he bent over and put his face in the  water. I clapped, his mother, watching from the side clapped, and John emerged from the water with a huge smile on his face.

Thursday John jumped in the pool, put his face under water and joined the class as they learned to float and kick. By the end of the morning, John had caught up with the other children. He was using a kickboard propelling himself across the pool. He kept his head under water, but when he turned his head to get a breath of air, he was grinning from ear to ear!

Friday, with all of the children together, we taught them arm movements for the freestyle swimming stroke. They stood in the water practicing and before the session ended there were five new swimmers in Columbus, Ohio.

My First Gratitude

When John's mother came to pick him up on Friday, she carried an aluminum pan covered with foil.

"Thank you so much," she said, smiling, handing me the pan.

Lifting the lid, I saw a stack of brownies. My mother never made these delicious treats. I'd heard about them, but never tasted one. Now I had a whole pan all to myself!!

"Oh, thank you so much. I'm proud of John!" I replied, equally pleased with her son's progress.

This mother taught me I could receive someone's concerns and then serve as an agent of change in a little boy's life. The plate of homemade brownies, a tangible expression of a mother's gratitude for my work with her child, was an unexpected surprise.

The impact of her kindness remains with me 55 years later.

Questions for Reflection

1. When was the first time you remember receiving gratitude? Describe your experience.

2. How did this first experience encourage you to offer gratitude to others?

3. How do you maintain an awareness of gratitude all year, not just during November?

Prayer: God, I thank you for this mother's kindness to me. A new world of gratitude opened in my heart that day. Help me be your agent of thanks to all I encounter and an initiator of appreciation.
Guide me in these ways to spread gratitude wherever I go. Amen.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Gratitude All Year

Once again we are entering that time of year when we are encouraged to remember our blessings and give thanks. I've noticed, however, that I am reminded year round to give thanks and value the offering gratitude.

Benefits of Gratitude

Derrick Carpenter in his article "The Science Behind Gratitude and How It Can Change Your Life" notes those who have a regular practice of acknowledging those thing for which they are grateful,

     - experience more positive emotions,
     - feel more alive,
     - sleep better
     - express more compassion and kindness,
     - have stronger immune systems,
     -  have increased life satisfaction.

He continues that expressing gratitude eah day can be as simple as writing down a few words and putting the paper in a gratitude jar.

Write It Down

A feature in the Wellness section of TIME magazine (October 2, 2017) "New Ways to Become Healthier and Happier," suggests, "Write a thank you note; reflecting on a friend's impact can brighten your day and theirs," and "Jot down what you're grateful for.  Doing so has been linked to greater feelings of happiness."

Five Things to Smile About Each Month

The popular "O" magazine, Oprah's publication, features a whole page in each issue called "The Gratitude Meter." In the middle of the page is a circle with the phrae, "Five thing we're smiling about this month." An arrow points to a paragraph that describes the gratitude represented in each photo.

We don't have to write for Oprah to do the same, finding at least five things to smile about each month.

Gratitude Alphabet

One of my favorite bloggers, Amanda Blake Soule (Soule Mama) has a new book that came out a few years ago called The Creative Family Manifesto: Encouraging Imagination and Nurturing Family Connections. She devotes one chapter to gratitude and suggests trying a gratitude alphabet. "Write each letter of the alphabet on a large piece of paper and then decide something for which we are grateful corresponding to the letter."

Children and adults can enjoy this activity. Using the gratitude alphabet at various times of the year nurtures an awareness of thanksgiving.

Cooking Gratitude

Lilly Burana wrote "Cooking Up Gratitude" in the July/August, 2016, issue of Women's Day, describing how cooking a meal for her family used to be a chore she dreaded. One day while she was preparing a meal, she remembered that Sunday dinner at her grandmother's house meant wonderful comfort food.

She noted her grandmother "enjoyed cooking, her skills honed as the young, widowed mother of six."
Lilly remembered reading this poem on a plaque her grandmother had hanging above her sink"

     "Thank God for dirty dishes; they have a tale to tell.

      While others may go hungry, we're eating very well.

      With home, health, and happiness I shouldn't want to fuss;

      By the stack of evidence, God's been very good to us."

My Experience with Gratitude

I presented a talk last September to a group of clergy spouses about "Staying Together Through the Tough Times." One of my suggestions follows:

"Live with gratitude. Keep a list each day of things for which you are grateful. Gratitude offer a different perpective than reality - that all is not overwhelming and difficult. Gratitude enourages an awareness of God's presence, provision and faithfulness, and acknowledges goodness even when life is difficult."

The Gratitude Drawer

Eight years ago I went to an antique store in Noblesville, Indiana, and purchased for five dollars an old, narrow desk drawer, just the right size to hold a 4 x 6 index card cut in half. I stamped each day of the year at the top of the card. Underneath the date, I record a few words, my gratitude for that day. I look forward at the end of each day to reflect on the events, people or experiences I want to remember.

Every Day Throughout The Year

Making gratitude an everyday practice, not just in November when Thanksgiving is celebrated, can fill our hearts with God's abundant blessing. Try some of these ideas so that you might experience more positive emotions, sleep better, smile bigger and feel more alive.

For Your Reflection

1. How can you develop an awareness of those parts of everyday life for which you are grateful?
2. Writing in a journal or on index cards can be reminders of God's provision and goodness throughout the year. Try it!!

Prayer: Thank you, God, seems inadequate to describe the way you provide for us. We read numerous examples in the Old and New Testaments how persons in seemingly dire circumstances were given provisions to survive and thrive just like you do for us today. Guide our hearts to offer thanks to you for your generosity throughout our days. Amen.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Sharing Space - We Do It All The Time

Standing in line at the grocery store, Target, hardware store or any other place can often bring challenges. Sometimes, if we're in a hurry it seems that the person in front needs a price check or got the wrong size or needs another color of the same item or forgot one more apple in the farthest aisle from the checkout lane.

So we wait.

And while we wait, we deal with mounting impatience and frustration when we just want to get on with our day. Why did I get stuck in this line with these people? Why did I have to show up at the exact same moment?

Like it or not, we're sharing space with others in the world.

And yes, sharing space can be aggravating. But sharing space can also offer an opportunity to pray for those around us.

Try offering a general thought or blessing such as "God come to _________ (this woman, this man, this child)" or "Let ____________ (him or her) know the reality of your presence" or "Help this mother have patience with her child while she waits." The simple act of bringing that person to mind, heart and spirit, as we stand in line and share space can bring us new joy or offer a new perspective to the situation.

Sharing Empathetic Space

Recently, I participated in a yoga class held at the Indianapolis Museum of Art on Saturday morning before the museum opens. It's one of my favorite things to do. As I was waiting for the guide to take me to the third floor gallery where the class meets, my mat slung over my shoulder, I shared space with a woman standing next to me. She started talking.

A retired breast surgeon, she was dealing with the challenge of her children living in two faraway places: Florida and Texas. She was debating whether to move closer to one or the other. I listened, sharing my own story of a child who lives far away. We shared empathetic space as we waited for class to begin.

Sharing Soothing Space

Every week when I volunteer at IU Hospital North, I share space with anxious families who are waiting until their loved one returns from surgery. As I sit with them, I listen and reflect their concerns, offering compassion to soothe their anxiety. Walking with them down the hall, the final time for a reunion with the patient ends our moments of shared space.

Sharing Heart Space

Sharing space is about sharing my heart - opening my heart through God's heart. What an honor each day to be given the opportunity to share space with someone else.

A few weeks ago, I shared space in a funeral home. I stood in line to pay respects to a family whose 20-year-old son died suddenly. I starting talking to the woman in front of me. A winding line of college students who wore perplexed and confused expressions, surrounded us. The woman explained a few details of the man's death. "My son, was one of his best friends since elementary school," she added. With each word she said, my heart expanded to envelop her and all others in the crowded setting. Sharing space in this encounter reached the deepest places of my heart as I mourned with her and shared a common bond of shock and sorrow.

Sharing space with others can open the heart in unexpected ways - even those moments that begin with frustration can end with concern and care.

For Your Reflection

1. What places do you share with others?

2. What happens during those long or short moments?

3. How do others share space with you?

Prayer: God, we share space with many throughout our days. Sometimes we engage in dialogue with people; other times our interaction is silent. Open our hearts deeper and deeper to receive your great love, so we can pout out this love with listening, attention and empathy, for those with whom we share space. Amen.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

A Thank You Note - A Nice Surprise

A thank you note for a birthday card helped me appreciate the value of writing gratitude to others.

Every March, I send a birthday card to my friend, Katie, an energetic 88-year-old I met in a water aerobics class at the YMCA. Each year,  along with a birthday greeting, I write on her card, "I want to be just like you!" - meaning in my eighties I hope to have the zest for life I see in Katie.

This year, she sent a thank you card. Along with her gratitude, she said, "I think you are wonderful just the way you are!"

I chuckled when I read these words that led me to pause for a minute and consider the beauty in my life.

An Unexpected Thank You

A few months ago, I received a thank you note from the CEO of Indiana University North Hospital, Randy, expressing gratitude for the time I volunteer each week. I was surprised and never expected to receive a note for my service.

Next time I saw Randy, I thanked him for his gesture of kindness. He told me he tries to write a thank you note each day to an employee or volunteer at the hospital. I was impressed with the faithfulness of this wonderful habit.

My Own Experience With Thank You Notes

Although I didn't like writing thank you notes when I was a child for gifts I received at Christmas, I was glad my mother made me write them. I carried that practice into adulthood. I  taught my children to write thank you notes from the time they were little, beginning with scribblings interpreted as "thank you." I continue to write and send notes myself all these years later as a joyful habit - in fact, I cannot begin to enjoy a gift I receive until I write a thank you to the giver.

Thank you notes express appreciation, but not always for gifts. I have received notes expressing gratitude for leading a program, for vocational and professional support, for being a mentor for remembering a birthday or special occasion, and for support following the loss of a spouse.

I have written thank you notes for a meal provided, for gratitude of a friendship, and most recently I wrote a note to an old friend who gave me reassurance that a mutual friend's final days were pain free and peaceful.

Jesus Says Thank You

Jesus realized the value of offering thanks on three occasions: following the raising of Lazarus, before he fed 4,000 people and at the Last Supper.

Jesus learned that Lazarus was sick. A few days went by before he went to Bethany. When he arrived, Lazarus was already dead. Mary and Martha were grief-stricken.

Martha said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

Jesus replied, "Your brother will rise again."

Jesus, Mary and Martha went to the tomb. When the stone was rolled away, Jesus commanded Lazarus to come out. Lazarus walked out of the tomb with strips of linen wrapped around his hands and feet.

Jesus looked up and prayed, "Father, I thank you that you heard me." (John 11:41-42)

Then, when Jesus was preparing to feed four thousand people, he "took the seven loaves of bread and when he had given thanks, he broke them." (Matthew 15:35-36)

Finally, when Jesus and the disciples gathered for the Last Supper, "He took bread, gave thanks and broke it.: (Luke 22:19)

Jesus knew and modeled the value of giving thanks to God.

More Thanks From Reader's Digest

The April, 2018, issue of Reader's Digest, contains an interesting story, "Showing Your Appreciation - The Power of a Thank You Note Can Last A Lifetime." (pages 110-117)

Fifteen people shared their experiences of receiving or writing a thank you note. One was from a woman who'd been a mail carrier for 30 years. When she retired, she wrote a note to each of her 436 customers, thanking them for allowing her to serve them. On her last day, she was surprised when many hung balloons on the boxes and wrote her a thank you note. She concluded, "I hope I delivered all the mail properly that day, as there were tears of gratitude filling my eyes."

Final Thoughts

Last week at a funeral visitation, I saw a woman who was a member of Mike's first church. I met her in June, 1976. I remember writing her a thank you note for bringing us a meal after we moved.

Next time I saw her, she thanked me for the note and said, "You are just beginning to write a lifetime of thank you notes as Mike's career starts."

At the time, I didn't realize the scope of her words, but surely I have written a lot of thank you notes over Mike's 37 years with churches, because affirming people by expressing gratitude is a way I show God's love.

Questions for Reflection

1. Are there people from the past to whom you would like to express gratitude by writing a note?
2. Make a list of these individuals, and write one note a day.
3. Is there someone who has recently completed a kindness you want to acknowledge? Take a moment to write a note of appreciation.

Prayer:  God, you give us everything we need, beginning with the gift of life. You provide for us physically, spiritually, and emotionally. How can we ever thank you for your goodness and love? Guide us to live our lives so we show gratitude in how we respond and interact with others. Help us daily to always give you thanks. Amen.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

An Interrupted Prayer Life - Maybe

Mike walks every morning along the busy street bordering our housing addition. He often picks up trash or coins he finds along the sidewalk or in the road. He tosses the trash in our recycle container, and donates the coins to mission project offerings at church each Sunday.

Last Sunday, Mike came home with a soaking wet prayer book filled with leaves, evergreen needles and mud. I took the book and examined it closely.

An embroidered green cloth with side pockets on the inside covered the prayer book, "Give Us This Day - Daily Prayer for Today's Catholic, October, 2019." A purple ribbon marked the place where the person was reading.

Inside I found two laminated prayer cards, a prayer to St. Michael and two small pieces of tablet paper from "Princess Cruises." The person had written errands to accomplish along with each store's address. I wondered if she was new to the area. A pink and green cross with a pink ribbon down the middle was in the back pocket.

Soaking the cloth cover and crochet cross in soapy warm water, removed the dirt and grit. I set the book in a warm corner of the laundry room so the pages could dry.

Someone Else's Prayer Life

Handling all of these pieces of someone else's prayer life made me want to find the owner. I wondered if the person put the book on the roof of her car, drove off perhaps in a hurry to get to church, forgetting to retrieve what was on top. Since Mike found the book early Sunday morning, I wondered if the owner was going to Saturday evening Mass.

Holding the crochet cross reminded me of a nearly identical one a dear friend made me, which I keep in my Bible and treasure.

What should I do with these holy tools of someone's prayer life? Was her time of daily reflection interrupted because she lost her prayer book, prayer cards and crochet cross? I am sure she paused and felt disappointed when she realized cherished pieces leading her to God were lost.

The prayer book is only for the month of October.  I committed to pray for this person until the end of the month. Perhaps I can be a link between her and God using her materials.

What to do?

My house is equidistant between two Catholic churches. I plan to take everything Mike found to  each church hoping the owner called the office to report the missing items. All of the contents reflect someone whose walk with God was meaningful and who came to God each day, following the guide for prayer and scripture reading.

Although I hold her in prayer as her treasures rest rest on my desk, I feel certain her time with God has remained solid. Perhaps she even purchased a new book cover, and copy of "Give Us This Day" for November. Maybe she asked he person who crocheted her cross to make another one. Her faith and trust in God are aided by what Mike found and I cleaned, but not dependent on these items.

The person I'm holding in prayer knows God, God knows her. And I, as I glance at the cross and say today's prayer, I feel as if I know her a little bit too.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for prayer books, prayer cards and handmade crosses, all of which keep us focused in your presence and close to you. I pray for this woman who lost items meaningful to her connection to you. Help my prayers sustain her until she is able to purchase replacements for her faith walk. Amen.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Pause - to cease or suspend an action temporarily; a temporary stop in action or speech

Back in the fifties, there was an advertisement for Coca-Cola showing a man in a business suit holding a bottle of the drink. The caption said, "At 4 pm the pause that refreshes." The slogan, "the pause that refreshes" became popular, suggesting that stopping or pausing for a drink of ice-cold Coca-Cola at any time of the day can offer refreshment.

Pauses also occur when we are in conversations and need a moment or two to collect our thoughts and think of a word we want to say. The pause button on our remote enables us to stop a movie or recorded show to get a snack, use the bathroom or get up and stretch.


Focusing on the word - pause - during the past few days enabled me to find value in a word that might not quite define our fast-paced world of instant communication. For example, I needed to find  a small bookcase to use in my office. Driving through our neighborhood, I stopped at a garage sale, spotting a bookcase before I got out of my car. I reached in my purse to pay, chatting with the mother and daughter who were in charge.

They explained how many friends and family members made donations to the filled garage. The mother told me all of the sales were being used to finance an adoption for her daughter who had lost four babies. While she helped me carry the bookcase to my car, the mother explained the various options available for adoption locally and internationally. We stopped outside my car as the mother detailed the anguish of her daughter's struggle with infertility.

Driving away, I realized that pausing to listen to the mother, added meaning to my purchase, gave me a lot more information than I expected when I walked to the sale. Now whenever I walk or drive by this house, I ask God to comfort this couple and guide them as they plan for the future.

Then, I went to visit my friend, Donna. When I arrived she had a bouquet of daisies and pink roses picked from her yard ready for me to take home. Donna paused during her busy day to pick a bunch of flowers that speak of her compassion and care for challenges I face. Donna set aside time from preparing for her niece's baby shower and caring for a sick family member, to send a grouping of love my way.

Quilt Store

Saturday morning, after swimming, I stopped by one of my favorite quilt stores. Being the only customer at the time, the two employees welcomed me into their conversation about the valedictorian at one of the large Indianapolis high schools who is homeless. Amazed at the witness of resilience to persevere despite horrible circumstances, we concluded this young lady will be an inspiration as she goes to college and pursues a career path.

At the cash register, the employee told me the story of one of her adopted children finding her birth mother. Pausing to listen to the complications and joys of the discovery, I learned about implications I'd only read about in the newspaper or magazines.

Once again, pausing in places and with people I didn't know, opened a window into their souls that tapped compassion in my heart.

Jesus Paused

Jesus modeled pausing. When people came to him seeking healing and advice, he patiently responded to each one. He could have said, "I need to go _____;" "I'm too busy;" "I need to rest." Instead, he paused at each encounter, offering God's presence through his attentive listening and care.

Pausing does take time, extra time.  I look at what I gained at the garage sale and the quilt store by pausing and listening which added depth and meaning to each experience. Now, when I look at my bookcase or drive by the house where the garage sale occurred, as I said, I can bring the couple to God as they await a child.

When I use the fabric purchased at the quilt store, I remember the homeless valedictorian and the employee whose daughter's knowledge of her birth mother added a new dimension to their relationship.

Being the recipient of Donna's pause brings a smile to my face and comfort to my heart when I see the vase of daisies and roses on my kitchen table.

Take a moment today and pause ---- what happens? Become aware how you are the beneficiary of someone else's pauses.

Prayer: God, you pause frequently to hear our prayers and receive our praise. Fill us with patience to pause at each encounter for we are meeting those who are made in your image. Amen.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

For Those Who Are Going Through A Rough Time - A Poem

For those who are going through a rough time, here is a poem, I hope will bring comfort.

The room where I go to cry,
Always has a window open.

The listener sees me far away in thought.
"Do you hear the wind in the trees?"

The question centers me in the corner office of the Gothic Church.
"I do, and the birds too."
I am present.

On the long table
A white candle rests inside
A glass lantern.
The wick glows
Honoring the holy space.
God is present in
The room where I go to cry.

I crumple the tissue,
That catches tears.
Two wet circles
On my jeans
Hold my grief,
Like the listener
Sitting with me
In the room where
I go to cry.

Sometimes I swallow my tears
When I am away from here.
But God is there with a bowl
To collect what falls from eyes,
Flows from my heart,
Wherever I am when I cry.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

What Makes A Church A Holy Place?

"St. Sava is the place that keeps our Serbian culture alive in New York City. Without it, I'm lost," said one church member after a fire destroyed the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava on May 6, 2016.

"The grand gothic arches have welcomed me every Sunday since 1973, framing baptisms, weddings and funerals," she continued.

As an act of solidarity, Calvary Episcopal Church, a few blocks away, offered to house the services for St. Sava in their sanctuary until the cathedral is reconstructed.

A group of parishoners looked at the beautiful stained-glass windows inside the Calvary sanctuary. "The sanctuary is unfamiliar," they said, "but God and prayers are the same. It's not our church, but it's a holy place. Wherever we go, God will be with us."

Differences in Church Buildings

An article by church architects, David Woodhouse and Andy Tinucci, "Building Faith," in the February 2017, issue of "Guideposts" explained how these two men feel about designing a church.

"We think of our designs as one side of a conversation. The building says something to the worshipper, and the worshipper completes the conversation by responding with his or her faith. That's why we try not to put too many pictures or words into our designs. We keep things abstract. We try to give worshippers room to have their own experience of God, using their own imaginations"

In their design philosophy, light, buidling materials, size, sound, wood, stone or carpeted floors all contribute to the person's experience of God when entering and their conversation with God in worship.

Churches I Have Known

This article helped me pause and remember the design of the churches Mike served through the years. When he was in school at Duke Divinity School, he served three small country churches painted white with tall steeples. No frills or decorations were inside; the altar and pulpit were the main focus. Two of the churches had cemeteries next to the which was common long ago.

The remaining churches, all in Indiana, had unique features. Two had balconies (New Castle and Vincennes); two (Mt. Vernon) had a belfry, where children took turns each week pulling the thick, frayed twine cord to move the bell, signaling the beginning of worship.

Another church in Indianapolis had a long, center aisle with fifty pews on either side. Eight stained-glass windows, installed during Mike's tenure, offered impressive art to the sanctuary. Mike's last church in Fishers, had four aisles, with brides having the choice to enter from any one of them. A descending dove depicted in layered brick on a wall behind the altar was a reminder of the Holy Spirit.

Until I read the article in "Guideposts," I never thought about how construction of a church could influence the worship experience or draw people together, giving them space for their own private time with God. The two architects believe that churches, "need to be free of the distractions of modern life." While I have appreciated the stained-glass windows and the brick descending dove, I like the idea that a distraction-free worship space is a gift to the busy, modern person who craves a conversation with God.

Your Church

What makes you sense God's presence in your church or in churches you've visited? Where do your eyes focus when you enter the sanctuary? On the lights, organ pipes, woodwork, carpet, flowers, altar cloths, candles, stained-glass windows, pictures, the pastor, organ? Do you find them a distraction or do they invite you to enter God's presence?

The congregation of St. Sava will surely miss worship each week in their holy place. However, the generosity of Calvary Episcopal Church clearly demonstrates the love of Jesus. I pray, in time, the Serbians will find new markers in the sanctuary that will help them find God's presence in a new setting. And after they rebuild their own space after the fire, they will build it back perhaps inviting more conversation with God than ever before.

Questions for Reflection

1. Do you find the space where you worship a distraction-free zone? If not, what kind of conversation is invited as you sit during the service?

2. Where does your eye fall as you sit or stand in worship? How does that affect your time in the sanctuary?

Prayer: The generosity, God, of your people in times of adversity, demonstrates the way we are always in mission to others. Bless those who are displaced and help them find familiary in you despite adverse circumstances. May we all find a rich, deep, intimate connection with you in all the spaces where we gather to worship. Amen.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Jesus, The Master of Customer Service

Spending time at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles was not my idea how to begin a recent Tuesday. Since the office, located in Noblesville, is closed on Monday, I could feel my anger building, realizing I needed to add one more thing to the next day already stacked with activity.

Since my attitude was not helping my approach to the day, I asked God on Monday evening to make my wait at the BMV a time of holiness - either give me an opportunity to bless someone or open my heart to what another could teach me.

On Tuesday, I arrived early. Walking to the lobby inside the front door where people wait for the office to open, I quickly was joined by a man and woman who seemed to know each other. We chatted about the Colt's game the previous day.

As our wait continued, these people described their places of employment - the man worked in a warehouse and the woman was a Kroger manager.

I asked the woman, "What is the most challenging part of your job?"

She replied, "People try to get things free and use outdated coupons."

We chuckled, still waiting for the office to open.

The lady added, "I am always thinking of customer service in my job. I wish these people would at least let us take a number and wait in a chair rather than just stand. I'm getting tired."

Customer Service

When I worked for St. Vincent Hospital, patient care was our primary focus. Our department scores on patient satisfaction were given at quarterly meetings. These markings, comparable to customer satisfaction, were monitored closely. We often attended programs or workshops on effective communication with and care of patients as well as their families and friends.

When I read the gospels, Jesus' pattern of interaction always demonstrates attention, love and compassion - even to those people on the fringe.

In Jesus' day, those on the fringe had diseases like epilepsy, leprosy or were considered demon possessd. Women were regarded as secondary citizens, certainly not worthy of association with someone like Jesus or other men in positions of town leadership and authority.

Jesus regarded everyone with love - that's wonderful customer service.

Thinking about people on the fringe today, the homeless come to mind quickly as well as those who are unemployed, living in poverty or struggling with addictions.

Everyone in some way may feel on the fringe at various times in life as struggles with illness, relationships, grief, job loss, and other challenges of living can make us feel alone or isolated. We all need excellent "customer service," especially during those times in our lives - whether from people or directly from God.

The woman waiting with me at the BMV lobby had compassion for those who were standing behind her, waiting to enter the main office. Although she couldn't change the circumstances, her thoughtful remark carried desire and concern for others that reminded me of Jesus, the master of customer service who regards everyone with love. I know I felt loved that day by simply chatting. The day, indeed, offered a moment of holiness, just as I had prayed.

Questions for Reflection

1. Are there places where you have to go, like the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, that are unavoidable, but dreaded? Maybe grocery shopping isa time you would rather spend other places. Perhaps sharing your desire with God for an opportunity to bless someone or open your heart to what another could teach you, will change your venture.

2. What other ways can you make "customer service" which is really modeling Jesus' example of receiving and treating everyone with love a part of every day life?

Prayer: God, providing customer service to those we encounter means following Jesus' model of love and compassion. Strengthen us to go out of our way to reach those whom we see "on the fringe" with the embrace of Christ. Open our eyes to family and friends who may be going through circumstances that make them feel "on the fringe" even temporarily. Deepen our capacity to love greatly all we encounter for in each other we see you. Amen.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Forgiveness - Climbing Mt. Forgiveness

Forgiveness can be one of the most difficult challenges we can face. We are wronged. We wrong others.

Forgiveness is necessary for healthy living in body, mind and spirit. Not offering forgiveness can cause physical symptoms as well as harbor resentment and anger.

David Peterson in his article "Climbing Mount Forgiveness" says, "There is no place where we reflect more of Jesus than when we forgive others. But, it's important to remember what forgiveness is not.

Forgiveness is not denial of the wrong and hurt.
Forgiveness does not diminish the pain.
Forgiveness does not remove the responsibility for the harm done by the other.
Forgiveness does not justify.
Forgiveness does not require warm and loving feelings."

Peterson continues, "Forgiveness is always difficult. Some things even seem unforgivable. But forgiveness is like climbing Mout Everest. We don't have to make it all the way to the top to improve our view. Even if we never reach the summit of Mount Forgiveness, we can at least keep climbing."

Jesus and Forgiveness

Jesus talks about forgiving others seventy times seven, which means 490 times (Matthew 18:22). I've also heard forgiveness explained like peeling an onion - there are layers to forgiving someone and forgiveness takes time.

Forgiveness is often a "one way street." We forgive so we can be free of resentment and anger when the person who offended us may not offer reconciliation.

My Experience with Forgiveness

Recently, I began the process of forgiving someone who wounded me greatly. I was overwhelmed, numb, and couldn't even think about forgiveness initially. As time passed, I knew forgiveness was the only way to get rid of anger and betrayal I experienced about an injustice that was causing  physical symptoms and emotional discomfort.

How did I start to walk along a path leading to freedom and peace?

1. I began by asking God to help me and give me strength. I knew forgiveness would not happen without God's leading and grounding.
2. Letting God know about my desire to forgive this person gradually shifted the energy in my heart, slowly releasing anger and resentment and allowing room for quiet and comfort.
3. Knowing Jesus forgave those who crucified him offered companionship as I walked through the  circumstances and emotions generated.
4. Exercise regularly. Experiencing a wrong doing can create a lot of energy. Dissipating this energy helped relax my body, release tenion, and open my heart and mind.

Wondering how I would know when I had reached forgiveness was a question that arose frequently. Could I think about the incident with less anger? Did I have fewer flashbacks of what happened? Would my physical symptoms that developed afterward go away?

Although I have not completely reached a place of peace, I know that I am making progress toward forgiveness compared to where I was a month ago. My anger is reduced when I think about the person and what happened. Flashbacks occur with less frequency. I have stopped taking the medication my doctor gave me because the physical symptoms have gone away.

Inviting God into my desire for forgiveness helped me feel like I was not alone on a difficult path.

Reflection Questions

1. Is there someone you need to forgive?
2. Ask God to help you begin to forgive by using the suggestions listed above or creating your own way to start.

Two Prayers for Forgiveness
1. For all those I have harmed, knowingly or unknowingly, I am truly sorry. Forgive me and set me free. For all those who have harmed me, knowingly or unknowingly, I forgive them and set them free. For the harm I have done to myself, knowingly or unknowingly, I am truly sorry. I forgive myself and set myself free. Amen.
2. I let forgiveness rest on all of my memories of you (name a person). I bless you and ask God to fill you with his love in this instant and for eternity. Amen. (You may want to pray these words for a certain period of time, such as daily or for forty days.)

Closing Prayer
God, we try so hard to live with love, but sometimes we are wronged by others in various ways, and we wrong others. As you offer forgiveness so freely, strengthen and guide us when we need to forgive another, even when there is no possibility of reconciliation or acknowledgement. Amen.

Monday, September 2, 2019

I am taking a break this Labor Day holiday. Have a nice day - see you next week! Thank you for reading. Jacquie

Sunday, August 25, 2019

What Does It Mean - My Faith Is Tested?

In the YMCA locker room, I chatted with Judy, a woman I see frequently. She has custody of her eight-year-old granddaughter. Admiring Judy's stamina to raise a young child, I frequently ask what her granddaughter is doing. We talked recently about summer vacation, Judy explaining how she  challenged her grandchild to read and complete math and English workbooks two levels above her grade.

"You certainly value education."

"Education is key," Judy replied. She mentioned a friend, whose full-time job at a local hospital was recently reduced to part-time, putting a financial hardship on the family consisting of four children.

"This job situation has really tested my faith," Judy said.

We talked a few minutes longer before I went to dry my hair. Reflecting on Judy's words about her friend, made me wonder: How is our faith tested?

Thoughts on Faith

We can assume or hope all who believe in God have faith that is foundational, an anchor that grounds our interactions and responses to all events.

But what does it mean to have our faith tested? Is our faith only tested when unfortunate  circumstances come our way?

Do we ask questions of God when we are confronted with an unpleasant challenge, emotionally, personally, professionally? When unexpected illness or other uncertainties come our way, is our faith tested by asking God, "Why is this happening to me? How can this be?"

When "life is good" can we say our faith is strong or tested? When something unexpected happens to us or to someone we care about, do we automatically say, "my faith is being tested?" Or is our faith tested when we see a homeless person and question how to respond offering money, purchasing a hamburger or cup of coffee or walking by?

Whatever trial or test comes our way - life brings those things. We aren't immune to them. It's our response that either brings us closer to God or takes us further away.

Examples from the Bible about Testing Faith

Looking at Genesis, chapter 22, we hear God speaking to Abraham: "Sometime later, God tested Abraham. 'Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love so much and go to the land of Moriah. There on a mountain I will show you, offer him as a sacrifice to me.'"

God continued with specific instructions for Abraham to follow. Can you imagine how difficult this test was? Abraham, however, complied with faithful obedience. Just in the moment when his knife was raised to slay his son, God intervened.

An angel of God called to Abraham from heaven: "Don't hurt the boy or do anything to him. Now I know you have obedient reverence for God, because you have not kept back your only son from him."

In the New Testament, I wonder if Mary's faith was tested when the angel delivered the news that she was pregnant with Jesus? Her astonished response, "How can this be?" (Luke 1:34) might suggest a momentary waver in faith.

How do others answer the question - What does it mean to have your faith tested?

After I found examples from the Bible of people whose faith was tested, I decided to ask some of my own friends, what they thought and asked, "What does it mean to have your faith tested?"

One person answered: "My faith was tested when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. So many thoughts ran through my head when given that news among which was 'why me'? I was more afraid than anything, but I fairly quickly realized I was in God's hands and prayed for mercy that he would see me through whatever happened."

Another friend explained, "My faith was tested when my life plans didn't go along with God's plan for me. I could have walked away, but I chose to stay with the Lord and accept the life he has blessed upon me. It has taken many years to fully accept my new situation, but by putting my trust in him, despite my frustration and heartbreak for this path, my faith has strengthened."

Another person wrote: "What does it mean to have your faith tested? Good question. It seems tied to trials in 1 Peter and in James 1:2-4: 'Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.' 
Trials seem to be the testing of our faith. When I talk about trusting in God or having hope and then life falls apart do I still believe? Do I still trust? Do I still have hope? The trial stretches me to see if I will stick it out and hold to what I believed."

I spoke with my neighbor who shared these thoughts: "My faith is tested when I see a world that hates God and it seems like evil is winning. If God is just, why doesn't he right some wrongs now? Why do miracles not happen anymore?"

A long-time friend remembered a time when her faith was tested. "In March, 2015, our adult daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Our family was in shock and shut down with fear. I was angry - how could this possibly be? My own mother died of a brain tumor when I was six. My daughter lost her mother-in-law to a brain tumor in 2012. How could my son-in-law handle all of this with two small daughters? This did not seem fair, and I was quick to tell that to God. When my faith was tested, I was surrounded by my family, friends and church - they took care of us and got us through. They were the hands and feet of Christ. This is what helped me to keep my faith during this difficult time."

How To Respond When Our Faith Is Tested

When our faith is tested, however we perceive these times, it seems the only words to say to God, with deepest honesty, are "I can't get through this (name the trial or situation) without you. Increase my faith and trust so I can receive the care you will offer."

 Have we failed whatever trial or test by asking or questioning God? I think not especially if you still believe in God's presence at all times. You can end your prayer with, "Affirm my belief despite not seeing."

Reflection Questions:

1. How do I describe my faith?
2. What is a test of my faith?
3. How do I respond when I feel my faith tested?

Prayer: God, we do have moments and circumstances that test our faith. We wonder how to respond when life brings disappointments and hard times. Steady us, with comfort and the awareness that you are with us always. Amen.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Do I Give Others Fifty Percent or More?

Every Tuesday, I am a volunteer chaplain at the Indiana University North Hospital. Each week, I look forward to meeting people and helping those I encounter. When I enter the hospital, I am always looking for those who need assistance.

There are always those persons who are lost and need direction in or out of the hospital or to a doctor's office. I can read the expression on their face when they appear lost and ask, "How can I help you."

I know I represent the hospital, so I try to be as observant and helpful to those I see in the lobby or on the patient floors.

A Visitor Experience

A couple of weeks ago, I had just arrived, logged in at the computer in the volunteer office and walked across the lobby to get the mail. I am always on the look out for those who need assistance - I watch for people who seem lost or upset or nervous.

That Tuesday morning, I saw a woman sitting in one of the comfortable chairs in the atrium surrounded by a pool of spilled Pepsi on the floor.

As I went over to greet her, she said, "I must have fallen asleep and knocked my Pepsi over."

"I'll get someone to clean up." I went to the information desk to request housekeeping to come. Meanwhile, I got one of those yellow plastic signs to set near the spill to warn people to be careful.

"What kind of Pepsi do you drink?" I asked, waiting with her. She showed me the empty, plastic bottles.

"I'll be right back." I knew the cafeteria had the same kind of Pepsi she liked, so I purchased two bottles.

Realizing, I needed to check in at the chaplain's office, I handed her the bag with the bottles and went on my way, carrying with me her face of gratitude.

Did I Give Enough?

Reflecting later that afternoon, I remembered two challenges from a sermon I heard two days prior to my encounter with the woman.

"God, help me recognize you in this moment."

"God, if you can use me today, help me pay attention."

I gave my self a rating of fifty percent on my response to this woman, wondering why I didn't take a few extra minutes to ask why she was in the hospital or how she was doing, especially since she had fallen asleep in the chair.

The following Tuesday, I walked by the where she sat with Pepsi all over the floor and seat cushion and asked myself why I didn't interact with her further.

That spot is also a reminder to take a few extra minutes to be present to all of God's children and inquire about their circumstances, especially when I am at the hospital. There was nothing urgent at the chaplain's office to prevent a few more minutes with this woman. People need one hundred percent of me when I am there to serve.

Questions for Reflection

1. Who do you see each day? Be present to those you encounter wherever you go. Ask God to open love and compassion in your heart to extend to others.

2. Take time to care for those you see or those you know by listening to their concerns or celebrating their joys.

3. Record these moments in some way so you can remember how you have been the heart of God to others.

Prayer: God, we are surrounded by your people wherever we go. Help me to pay attention, to be present and care for those I see. Help me take a few minutes from my personal agenda to listen to those who may need a kind and compassionate ear, for my heart's desire is to love others in your name. Amen.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Walking Around the Elephant in the Room

Yesterday, my friend, Sue and I went to visit a mutual friend, Jan, who was suddenly diagnosed with acute leukemia. We entered the hospital room, both of us anxious, not knowing what to say to our friend who was exercising last week at the local YMCA and three days later was getting intravenous chemotherapy.

We let Jan set the tone of our visit as well as the flow of conversation. First, she explained the chronology of her illness. Then, we joked with the nurse, who entered the room to answer the beeping machine attached to Jan's arm, that Jan looked like a crime scene with bruises up and down both arms. Laughing helped break the tension we were all feeling.

We caught up on her family and their responses to her hospitalization. Another hospital employee came in and asked what Jan wanted for dinner. The employee read choice after choice, to which Jan answered how terrible each one tasted. After only four days in the hospital, she already had a list of likes and dislikes. She settled on grilled cheese and tomato soup, a meal we decided couldn't be ruined.

Sue brought some books to leave. I selected a bouquet of flowers which I discovered too late were not allowed on the cancer floor.

As our visit was ending, I asked Jan how we could pray for her.

She held up a pamphlet with the name of her type of leukemia on the front. "This is what I have. Do you know anyone who survived?"

We finally acknowledged the elephant around which we danced for thirty minutes.

"Yes," I said. "I know someone." One of my daughter's friends, had the same diagnosis in high school and now is a healthy mother of three young children. Jan seemed somewhat encouraged by the news.

Visiting Jan was not easy, as we were in shock how a seemingly healthy person could be so sick in such a short time. It forced us to consider our own mortality while facing the possibility of losing a friend.

However, we knew our visit provided company and distraction to our friend whose home was five hours away. Given the distance, she would have few visitors during this time of stress and fear.

How Do We Approach People Who Are Confronting Difficult, Life-Threatening Illnesses

Here are some suggestions.

1. Show Up - It's never easy to be present to someone with a serious illness, but showing up to visit, mirrors the compassion Jesus had for those with physical or emotional discomfort.
2. Bring somthing for the person to do. - Hospital days can be long. If the person left home in a hurry, as our friend, Jan, did, he or she may not have remembered to bring an activity to fill the long hours while receiving treatment or waiting for the doctor or other staff to arrive.
3. Let the patient direct the flow of the conversation. - He or she will let you know what to talk about.
4. If you feel comfortable, pray with the person before you leave. - Bring an awareness that God is present and at work in the life of the patient. You'll offer comfort through your words.

By the time we left, Jan seemed more relaxed than when we first arrived- in fact when I turned to wave good-bye, she had a huge smile on her face. I want to believe we were vessels of God's love and our care and concern will linger in Jan's heart when she is afraid or lonely.

Prayer:  God, thank you for strength needed  to visit those who are sick, for we face our own mortality when we do so. Give Jan whatever she needs, for you are the great provider. Amen.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Words From The Marketplace

Thoughts or new perspectives can come from unexpected places. Here are a few words of wisdom that came as I was "going through my day" the past few weeks.

The Kroger Parking Lot

During a recent rainy Saturday, I went to my favorite Kroger on the northside of Indianapolis. When I got out of the car, I noticed a Kroger employee gathering grocery carts scattered across the parking lot.

I walked by and said, "What happens when it rains and you are collecting carts?"

"I get the good Lord in my face," she replied with a big grin.

Now that's a new perspective! I dodged rain drops, pushed open my umbrella and rushed into the store.

My Church

John, the evening custodian at the church I attend, is a retired postal service employee who was part of a class I taught on prayer a few years ago. When I go to the church every Monday night to lead a support group, John is usually vacuuming the carpet. His positive, upbeat attitude is always refreshing.

One evening, I asked how he was doing and he replied, "Making things happen!"

"That's a great motivating phrase, " I replied, reflecting on how I can take the initiative to bring about good in the world.

Indiana University Hospital

Sue, the director of volunteer services at the hospital where I volunteer each Tuesday, is a former nurse. She managed a floor for many years before retiring and taking a part-time job with volunteer services.

Sue is full of wisdom gained from dealing with patients, families and hospital staff through the years.
When I finished my shift one day, I overheard her talking to a new volunteer, "Always manage up," she said.

She later explained when I asked about the phrase, "Always be positive and encouraging with people." Although she was referring to those she encountered in the hospital, her words can apply to any interaction.

My Thoughts

Walking in the rain through the grocery store parking lot, talking with a custodian at church and listening to a former nurse -  all unsuspecting places to glean new thoughts and insights in the marketplace of my life.

For Your Reflection

1. Be mindful of the places and people where you go each day. Listen to what you hear people saying, even though they may not be talking to you. What can you learn?

Prayer: God, thank you for people who spread your word with phrases that have come to them through their life experiences. Keep our ears and hearts open to receive what you want us to capture wherever we go. Amen.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

A Confession at 22,000 Feet

A few years ago, Mike and I went to visit our daughter, Sarah who lived in Denver. We walked down the ramp boarding the plane and a man wearing cowboy boots turned to me and said, "If you're following me, I don't know where I'm going." I laughed, taking the edge off the anxiety that often comes when I fly.

We shared the row with this gentleman. Mike sat on the aisle, I was in the middle, and the gentleman with the cowboy boots  had the window seat. Mike brought a book to read, I had a small quilt to make, and the man brought nothing to do.

Shortly after we took off, he started talking to me. He was going to Denver to spend the week fishing with his sons, whom he had not seen for two years.

"I've been a truck driver for 30 years. I drive all over the country for a large company," he offered.

I asked a few questions about his work, and told him what Mike and I did.

That opened him up. He began.

"I've done a lot of things I'm not proud of. I fought in Viet Nam. I saw and did a lot of things I didn't want to do."

I set my stitching aside to look straight into his pale, blue eyes. He continued.

"I went to church, but people judged me for riding a motorcycle, for the clothes I wore, my tattoos, my job, my divorce. I want to be married, but I can't seem to hang on to a woman. Takes a special woman to stay married to a truck driver. I regret my marriage didn't last. I didn't go back to church. I feel what happens to me after I die is between me and God."

I listened and felt like I was hearing a confession. I told him I was sorry for his experience at church. I regret he didn't try another church and will only know God when he dies.

He continued to talk as I rested my hands on the small quilt for a baby shower in a few weeks.

"My wife didn't want the boys so I took them and raised them best I could. We skype and stay in touch that way."

"Sounds like you did a good job. Spending a week together will give you lots of time to talk."

"Yes, we'll have fun in the peace and quiet. I've got bear spray just in case!" he laughed.

"Oh, my! I pray you have a wonderful vacation."

"Thank you. We will."

Our conversation ended just as the "fasten seatbelt sign" flashed and the attendant alerted us the plane was making the final descent.

I took a few pins out of the little quilt. Quilting is a way I feel God's presence and holding the quilt provided a holy background for the outpouring of this gentleman's heart. As I folded the quilt to tuck away in my bag, I knew that all I heard and carried to God was held in the fabric resting on my lap.

Reflection Questions

1. When have you provided a listening ear for someone in an unexpected place?

2. Is it hard or easy to put down your agenda for the time and be completely present to another?

Prayer:  Thank you, God, for putting me next to this stranger who had a need to express thoughts living deep within his heart. Help me always to stay present to those I encounter and keep me mindful when I need to pause and listen to one of your children. Amen.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

"You Can't Force The Heart"

 Sue Monk Kidd's  ( author of The Invention of Wings, The Secret Life of Bees, and other novels) early writings appeared in Guideposts and other books and magazines addressing spiritual topics. One of my favorite pieces of her writing appeared in "Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life," November/December, 1990, The subject of the bi-monthly publication was "Compassion."

Sue described an experience when she was 12, visiting a nursing home with her church youth group. She wanted to go swimming with her friends on this particular day close to the end of summer, but her mother made her go to the church event.

Sue first visited an elderly woman whose appearance saddened her - "the worn down face, the lopsided grin, the tendrils of gray hair protruding from a crochet lavender cap." Sue gave the woman a bouquet of crepe paper flowers.

"The woman looked at her and said, "You didn't want to come, did you child?

The words stunned me. They were too painful, too powerful, too naked in their honesty. 'Oh yes, I wanted to come,' I protested.

A smile lifted one side of her mouth. 'It's ok,' she said. 'You can't force the heart.'"

My Own Heart Experience

Many  years later, after reading the article in Weavings, I had a similar experience. When I was employed as a speech pathologist at St. Vincent Hospital, Indianapolis, I worked two weekends a quarter. I worked an eight hour day on Saturday, but Sunday, I could keep my pager on, and only go in if there was an emergency.

One particular Saturday, I was tired, I wanted to stay home and dreaded going in. When I reached the hospital, checked the stack of patient folders left from Friday and started making my rounds. Most of my patients were on the neurology floor.

Entering one gentleman's room, a stroke patient, I introduced myself and explained what we were going to address. He looked at me and said, "You didn't want to come in today did you?"

He shocked me into reality. How could he know my thoughts - that I really wanted to be home spending time with my teenage daughter?

I stumbled for words, just like Sue did, and finally said, "Oh, no! I'm glad to be here."

What betrayed my heart? Was it something in my facial expression or demeanor that conveyed my true feelings? Even though he'd had a stroke, he was able to perceive what I did not want to express.

When I walked out of his room forty-five minutes later, I remembered Sue Monk Kidd's article.

I couldn't force my heart. My face had betrayed me and the compassion I wanted to convey to this patient as well as to all my other patients that day was empty and gone. I was dishonest with God, with myself and especially with a patient I wanted to serve.

The Rest of My Day

Walking up and down the hospital halls seeing patients the rest of the day, I asked God to take my weariness and give me strength so I could be present and focus sincerely on each person I encountered. I did receive energy as the day progressed and felt the return of heartfelt compassion which I usually brought to my work.

When I drove home reflecting on the day, I realized I needed to be honest with God before I left home especially on the Saturdays I worked, in order to have a heart ready to give care that would honor God, despite what I was feeling. Putting "myself on the shelf" for the duration of my work is attainable with God.

For your Reflection

1. Have there been times when you didn't want to go or do something, personally or professionally, but had to? What was your experience?

Prayer: God, many times our feelings surface in ways that prevent us from being as sincere and compassionate as we desire. Sometimes we do have to force our hearts, to go through a day when we are overcome with our own struggles, desires or fatigue. Help us remember Jesus' words, "Come to me all who are weary and heavy and I will give you rest." Hold and carry our hearts and give us strength to complete our tasks until we can rest in you.  Amen.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Sustaining Presence of Rituals

Ritual - an established procedure for a religious or other rite; a book of rites or ceremonies.

Almost everyone has rituals for beginning their day - awakening, a shower, eat, got to work, stay at home, have lunch, dinner, sleep. That's a basic outline with many individual modifications.

Athletes sometimes observe rituals before a game - eating certain foods, listening to favorite music and wearing specific clothes. Before I jump into the water to swim, I ask God to bless my time as I go back and forth, making these moments holy and meditative.

My ritual each morning links me to God, shortly after I awaken. I go to my desk, say the Lord's Prayer out loud twice, pray for my family and friends, record my gratitude from the previous day, reflect on a few verses of scripture and if an image surfaces, I record it. These practices are observed before I go downstairs, ground my day in God.

Now that I am retired, I have the luxury of spending more time in the morning reading the Bible and in prayer. When I worked, however, I developed an abbreviated form of centering, using my 30 minute commute to pray and then read a prayer before I got out of my car. Sometimes, it's necessary to be creative and find a meaningful ritual with God.

Coffee Ritual

The March, 2016, issue of The Oprah Magazine, had a short feature called "Coffee Mate." The author describes how she got to know the barista who filled her coffee order each morning. He always greeted her with a smile and asked how her day was going. She, in turn, got to know him as he shared stories about his family and desire to return to school. She said, "I've never told him my last name, yet he knows me from the milestones to the minutiae. Sure, he's a total stranger, but when he asks how I'm doing, he actually wants to know."

My daughters, Sarah and Anna, stop each morning for coffee on their way to work. They enjoy a light camaradarie and familiarity with the baristas who take their orders. When I asked Sarah, what she thought about "Coffee Mate," she replied, "It's all about the ritual."

And it is. There is something sustaining and familiar about being greeted by the same person at the coffee shop each day. Often the barista has the coffee waiting before an order is placed. Exchanging pleasantries and conversations builds a connection that can be foundational for the day.

Rituals to Sustain in Challenging Circumstances and Illness

Rituals can offer secure attachments for all stages of life. For moments of celebration, such as a birthday or graduation, we often have cake with words honoring the occasion, scripted on the top. Inivtations are sent, family and friends gather. Cards and gifts find their way to the person of honor. We know the pattern for celebration - the ritual for gathering and honoring has been set in place for many generations.

Daily living also brings challenges, such as a job loss or serious illness as well as frustrations or inconveniences like a broken computer, a tooth crown that comes off, glitches in event planning or a flat tire. Rituals to sustain in these circumstances can involve coming to church.

I grew up attending the Episcopal Church. Its Book of Common Prayer contains all of the services of worship for the calendar year. Holy Communion is celebrated the first Sunday of the month, followed by three Sundays that use the service of Morning Prayer. For the occasional fifth Sunday, Morning Prayer is repeated.

Despite living in an unpredictable, chaotic home, I knew what to expect each Sunday. I came to love the comforting presence of the ritual that became familiar over the years. The words and liturgy buried deeply in my heart, grounding me closer to God.

The January 18, 2016 Patheos blog, had an article about the importance of liturgy, written by Jonathan Algner who lives with depression. "The Black Dog, The White Pill and Liturgy," offers Algner's thoughts:

"If it wasn't for liturgy, I really might have been done. My depression is worlds better than it was last fall, but there are still times when I feel disconnected. I don't always feel my faith. I don't always feel God's presence. I don't always believe.

But I still go to church, and I say, sing and pray when my heart is often unable to do. Even when I don't believe, I say it (the liturgy) anyway. 'I believe in God, the Father Almighty ....' Even when I don't mean it I pray anyway, 'They kingdom come, they will be done...' Even when words fail, I listen anyway, 'The Body of Christ broken for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you." And I know that I am no longer alone. It's restoring. Renewing. Reconciling.

And it's life giving. Even if all I can do is muster the energy to show up and do my job, the ritual of the liturgy, the word and sacrament, nourishes my faith at its weakest points and gives me strength to carry on.'"

Questions for Reflection

1. What rituals form your day?

2. What rituals are meaningful in worship and help practice your faith?

Prayer: God, part of our forming closer to your image involves rituals to increase an awareness of your presence to sustain us at all times. Guide us as we seek you each day. Amen.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

The Value of Pauses

Pause - a temporary stop or rest, especially in speech or action; a cessation of activity because of doubt or uncertainty; a moment of hesitation.

A few years ago,  I tunneled through frenzied Christmas shoppers at a local mall to reach a place of quiet in the second floor movie theater. My youngest daughter, Anna, had seen the movie "Brooklyn" in mid-November and thought I would enjoy it too. Since I was spending a few days with Anna at the end of the week, I wanted to make sure I saw it before our reunion.

My friend, Emily, who was almost twenty, joined me. After the movie I appreciated her observations giving me a youthful perspective on the plot.

The story was about a young, Irish woman, Eilis, who ventured to New York City to start a new life. She lived in a boarding house, found a job in a department store and quickly met a charming young man. Although her early months go smoothly, she misses her mother and sister.

Pauses in the Movie

Throughout the movie, I was captured by pauses that occurred. "Brooklyn" wasn't fast-paced, the plot evolved slowly and deliberately.

The pauses occurred in many spots, more than I remembered in most movies. When her boyfriend told Eilis he loved her, she paused, looked at him, put her face down and walked away. The audience was held in suspense wondering what she would say to an expression of love early in their relationship. Her pause and non-verbal reply seemed appropriate.

Whenever Eilis received letters from home, she held them in her hand before opening. Her pause  reflects her anticipation and excitement for the greetings from her mother and sister.

One day at the store, Eilis saw the priest of the church she attended and watched him move slowly toward the counter. She paused in the middle of a sale and watched his actions. Her affect continued without expression as the customer leaves. The priest paused, trying to find words to deliver the news of her sister's unexpected death.

Pauses in the movie illustrated the value of taking time to reflect before responding or experiencing the gift of a letter communicating unknown, but treasured contents, and wondering about the visit of a priest to a place of employment.

Pauses in everyday life offer space to think before speaking or writing. Quick answers during conversation can result in words not chosen well or feelings expressed in anger. Taking a few moments to pause before answering can lead to healthier and more meaningful conversation. The odds of harmful words or inappropriate expressions can decrease when pauses happen.

How Did Jesus Pause?

In John chapter 8, verses 1-22 Jesus was confronted by the teachers of the law and the Pharisees when they brought a woman to him who had committed adultery.

"Teacher," they said to Jesus. "this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. In our law Moses commanded that such a woman must be stoned to death. Now, what can you say?" They said this to trap Jesus so that they could accuse him."

Now this question carried great meaning and importance as Jesus was being "put to the test" so to speak by well-respected people in authority. Jesus, however, took a moment to pause before answering. He bent over and wrote in the ground - or as some described "in the dust that covered the land." His pause caused the Pharisees to pause, too, which might have increased their distress over not receiving an immediate answer.

Jesus finally replies, "Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her."

After Jesus answered the question, he paused again, bent over a second time to write on the ground.

The Pharisees and teachers did not receive the answer they expected, so they went away.

Jesus demonstrated that pausing to reflect before answering questions is an important part of communication.

Can We Pause Today?

Pauses in our age seem few and far between. We push the pause button on movies to get more food or use the bathroom and then resume our feature. Often our answers to questions are "rapid fire," so we can move on to other topics. The art of pausing to reflect on an answer before speaking can give us time to collect our thoughts, to organize words so we can say what we want to convey.

Pauses in conversation are often seen as "awkward silences," but this awkwardness can give those engaging in conversation valuable time to reflect on what has been said, plan words and put together sentences that are most helpful.

A Way to Pause Last Lent

I recently found a book that I used during the past Lent called Pauses for Lent - 40 Words for 40 Days. The author invited the reader "to make a commitment to pause during each day of Lent, to read each brief meditation, and reflect on the word for the day." I appreciated the way the art of pausing created space in my life to listen to God and have continued to pause more frequently during my days to hear God's voice.

Emily and I left the movie theater chatting about our impressions. We were touched by the poignant scenes when Eilis said good-bye to her mother and sister before leaving Ireland. Emily focused on Eilis' character development throughout the movie, while I mentioned the pauses. The pauses framed tender moments in the movie making each one stand out in importance.

Later that evening, I remembered how Jesus paused twice before responding to the Phariseses. I appreciated the pauses practiced during Lent, encorporating the practice in every day life.

Prayer: Pausing seems counter-cultural, God, in our busy world where we are so connected with others, but must be intentional to stay connected to you. Guide our moments to include pauses when we can stop and reflect, for in these pauses we can seek you for words or insight as a way to dwell deeper in you. Amen.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Begging Bowl - Part Two

Last week, I shared the story of the begging bowl - and how filling an empty bowl with whatever you desire can be a way of recognizing God's presence. My daughter, Anna, decided to choose a bowl and fill with various items. Here are her comments about the experience written two years ago.

"When I read my mom's post, I was filled with the customary inspiration that comes after reading her words. I connected even deeper to this particular post since the bowl she described came from the shop where I work. I am beyond delighted that something she bought during a visit to Portland inspired such a mindful project. When I read the call-to-action for her readers to also conduct a "bowl project," I knew it was something I wanted to do.

I have the classic conundrum of those with both a small living space and borderline hoarder tendencies: I don't have a lot of room in  my one bedroom apartment, but I do have a lot of things I want to keep. Most of these things are reminders of love. My parents are a constant reminder of love, and their acts are the things that remind me of God's love as well. My bowl - well not a bowl at all, but a rather small vessel handmade by one of my favorite ceramicists in Portland - became a place for holding these special things.

Often times, I am messy in my way of keeping track of these items that cross many miles to get to me and remind me that I am loved.  Having the bowl project gave me a devoted place to keep these things, a place that is beautiful in decoration and easy to access, but also didn't take up too much space in my apartment.

Things that found their way in there were mindfully placed momentoes of love: handwritten notes from my mom, an envelope addressed by my dad (just seeing familiar handwriting is a reminder of love to me), a movie ticket a friend bought me out of love - because we both needed to escape the heat and what better treat that a cool, dark theater?

Through this project, I learned that simply being open and ready to receive is enough to find oneself "overflowing with expressions of love," as my mom wrote. It doesn't have to take up a lot of space in your mind or on your countertop, nor is it complicated to catalogue. I never second-guessed what I put in the bowl, I just knew. Because I was open.

Ultimately my bowl experience was a fulfillment of my mon's prayer for her readers as the end of her post. That prayer reads: God, fill us to overlfowing with tangible expressions of your goodness, love and challenge. Guide our reflections with what you give so we can learn more about ourselves and our lives with you. Amen.

Who doesn't want to feel that? I feel blessed that I did through this project, and continue to because of it."

Anna Reed - August 27

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Begging Bowl - Part 1

A few years ago, my daughter, Anna, who lives in Oregon, was the director of marketing and media for "Betsy and Iya" an independent jewelry store in Portland. We when visited Anna, we always spent some time at the store, perusuing the merchandise and watching the jewlery makers put together unique and classic earrings, bracelets, rings and necklaces.

During one visit, I was captivated by a variety of colorful bowls, the owners purchased during a trip to visit family in Guatemala. The tightly woven containers came in different shapes and depths. I purchased two, knowing I would use them for something in the future.

When we returned home, I was reminded of a story I read about bowls in a book by Sue Bender, "Everyday Sacred - A Woman's Journey Home. Sue talks about a  monk who left his home every day holding an empty bowl in his hands. Whatever was placed in the bowl was his nourishment for the day.

Sue continues;

     "It was obvious to all who knew me that I wasn't a monk and the very idea of begging would make most of us uncomfortable. In spite of that, the image of a begging bowl reached out and grabbed my heart.

     Initially, I didn't know whether I was the monk or the bowl or the things that would fill the bowl or all three, but I trusted the words and the image completely."

Sue spends the rest of the book describing stories, experiences and people that filled her bowl during several years.

Thoughts on My Two Bowls

Looking at the two bowls from "Betsy and Iya" resting on my office floor, I considered how a bowl can teach three things about how to be present to God: open, ready to receive, and waiting to be filled.

Here's a project for the summer during this period of time called "Ordinary" on the liturgical calendar.

1. Find a bowl. Maybe it's your favorite mixing bowl, your container for cereal or a decorative bowl.
2. Remember where you purchased the bowl and how you use it. If the bowl was a gift, recall the occasion and the giver.
3. Bless the bowl. Hold the bowl in both hands. Ask God to keep your heart open like the bowl to receive whatever God might want to fill it with.
4. Invite God at the beginning of each day to fill your bowl. Become aware of how God is coming to you. Whatever you feel God leading you to, include as content in the bowl.
5. At the end of July, look how your bowl was filled. Examine the contents to see what comes to your heart.

When I decided to fill a bowl for a few weeks, I discovered scripture, prayers, newspaper clippings and photographs coming my way. I wrote insights and perspectives I received about life from other people, books, or God I wanted to remember. If I received a letter or note during this time, these found a home in my bowl too.

Dried peonies, my favorite spring flower, rested in my bowl, the beauty amplified while drying. Small pieces of leftover fabric from sewing projects and a church bulletin with sermon notes also filled the bowl.

I carried the bowl just about everywhere I went. The bowl rested on the passenger side of the car and followed me from room to room at home. God speaks anywhere and anytime. The bowl helped me remember to keep my heart open, ready to receive and be filled.

Reflection Question

1. How can an open bowl serve as a reminder to open your heart to God? Be curious about what can find a home in your bowl.

Prayer: God, fill us to overflowing with tangible expressions of your goodness, love and challenge. Guide our reflections with what you give so we can learn more about ourselves and our lives with you. Amen.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Comfort - to soothe, console; relief in afflictioin

A few years ago, I was listening to one of my favorite NPR shows, "Fresh Air" hosted by Terry Gross, at noon every day. She was interviewing the Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, Viet Thanh Nguyen, who wrote "The Sympathizer."

Mr. Nguyen described his family's flight from Viet Nam to San Jose, California, when he was in elementary school. His parents found work in a Vietnamese grocery store. After a year, they opened their own store that contained food items not available in any other place, such as huge sacks of rice, Vietnamese fruit and fish sauce called nuoc mam - the life-blood of Vietnamese cuisine.

The odor of the food products in the store, especially the scent of rice, fruit and spices, led Viet Nguyen to notice, "There was a kind of mustiness which I assume might have been alien to Americans, but to Vietnamese people, it was the smell of comfort."

Sources of Comfort

Comfort - I heard that word earlier in the week when I was visiting one of my favorite places, Conner Prairie, an 1829 village filled with costumed people playing various roles in homes and businesses of that era.

I was in the animal barn my usual first stop. Two large sheep were resting in front of a fan that was as tall as me - just under five feet. Both rested their heads on the metal guard enclosing the swirling blades.

I asked the attendant if the sheep were hot, especially since the outside temperatures were cool. She replied, "No, they just like to hear the noise of the fan. It brings them comfort."

"Like white noise that sometimes is used to lull babies and young children to sleep?" I asked.

She smiled, "Yes."

Hmm, I thought, sheep need comfort too. A few days later, I remembered the NPR feature on the comforting smell of the Vietnamese grocery store and reflected on the many ways we need comfort, both human and animals.

Comfort Food

A couple of weeks after my visit to Conner Prairie, I was reading the magazine section of The New York Times.  Turning to page 32, I found this headline, "The Ultimate Comfort Food - when things get tough nerves can be sooth by "aligot" cheesy mashed potatoes."

The author, Tejal Rao, states in the first paragraph,

     "In times of great stress or of flickering low-level dread, I find that cancelling all my plans and staying in to make mashed potatoes generally helps. This year there were quite a few opportunities to do so. Election-related anxiety gnawed at me for months, lighting up old networks of pain in my shoulders and back. I started a thrilling, but terrifying new job. I worried about my grandmother, almost 80, living alone. I turn to "aligot" the cheese-thickened mashed potatoes with roots in central France. Aligot doesn't fix anything, but it does put a little cushion between you and the abyss, whatever form the abyss might take."

What Is Your Go-To Source of Comfort

Many people have "go to" items when comfort is needed. When I miss one of my children, I take one of their robes off the hook in the bathroom and wear it for a short time.

Sometimes when my heart aches for a heathy home that was not part of my past, I go to Conner Prairie and walk through the homesteads, watching the women sew and quilt or cook over a hearth with an open fire. I note stacks of potholders on the hearth or rows of clay jars made on the grounds lined in order in the pantry - they bring comfort to that part of my heart that still craves order. Even if I have to go to a fictional past, I find it helps.

Comfort - how do you find comfort in times of loss or challenging, disruptive or chaotic times?

     - a favorite mug filled with coffee or tea?
     - a passage of scripture that speaks to you and penetrates those chambers of your heart that ache?
      - pictures of people who are dear and remind you of good times?
      - music -or the soothing hum of white noise?
      -physical exercise?

I find comfort in all of the above and more. Nature, for example, moves me - we who watch the daily rhythms of nature's changes, find peace and comfort in predictable pattern. When I swim, the regular flow of my arms, legs and breathing cycle brings comfort for the the predictability, familiarity and long-time practice.

May you find comfort whether in familiar smells of your traditional food, through the soft murmur of white noise, in the familiar flavor and texture of whatever "aligot-type" food you like to prepare, in reading scripture, in music and movement. Finding comfort is important - we all need comfort.

For Your Reflection

1. What brings you comfort, food? an activity? a hobby? music? scripture? a favorite book? The possibilities are endless.

Prayer: God, your love and presence are our immediate comfort as we go through days that have bumps and unexpected turns. Increase our awareness of your proximity, for you can soothe our hearts and restore our balance in you and in ourselves. Amen.